How the John Kerry/Iraq Story Really Broke

November 1, 2006 - The way that the story of John Kerry's comments about education and getting 'stuck in Iraq' became blockbuster news is rather humorous and tells us a lot about the nature of our modern news media. Believe it or not, there was a very excellent chance that Kerry's comments could have been made without creating anything close to even a minor incident. There are many reasons why that rather likely scenario was not allowed to occur. Here is how it really all went down.

My show's standard policy is to be taping at least one local TV newscast in the hours before my program just in case some extraordinary happens. On most nights we tape the local NBC affiliate (Channel 4 in Los Angeles) mostly because they are right across the street from KFI's studios and we know a lot of the performers who work there. On some nights we forget to roll any tape at all or there is a technical problem with the tape itself.

On Monday evening around 6 pm I was prepping for my show when I saw a report on KNBC from Conan Nolan (an excellent reporter who has been on my show before). The taped package focused on a Phil Angelides campaign event that including, among others, Senator John Kerry. I listened to the story with only half interest because Angelides has zero chance of being Governor and is usually so boring I often fall asleep before he is finished speaking. Nolan's package was presented in as routine a fashion as possible with absolutely zero indication that anything out of the ordinary had occurred. He stated in his voiceover that Kerry had told the crowd at Pasadena City College that if more Democrats got elected that more kids could go to college. Immediately after that lead in, the packaged piece played the now infamous clip of Kerry appearing to say that if you don?t study you could end up being a failure, forced to join the military, and ?get stuck in Iraq.? Nolan?s report rolled on as if Kerry had said nothing more noteworthy than ?the sky is blue and the grass is green? and no further mention of the remark was made.

I was immediately thunderstruck by what I thought I had heard. My show plays a lot of sound bites from public people saying really stupid things, but this one appeared to me to be simply off the charts. It sounded to me like he just said that if you are too dumb to be a success you may end up at the bottom of the barrel and held against your will fighting as a soldier in Iraq. Even as low an opinion as I have for John Kerry, I was not totally confident that I had not just misunderstood what I had heard. After all, not even John Kerry is THAT stupid. Heck, everyone knows that Yale graduates aren?t dumb (unless of course they are named Bush).

I quickly asked my producer Lisa Goich whether we were, in fact, taping Channel 4 and thankfully she told me we were. We then found the clip and realized that what I thought I heard Kerry say was exactly what he had really said. Everyone on my show, as well as Justin Levine a producer for Bill Handel?s morning show, agreed that this statement was outrageous and very news worthy.

I decided to take a chance and lead my program with the news of the Kerry gaffe that only one local TV station who was at the Angelides event had even bothered to play (and again that was totally without fanfare or context). Over the next three hours I played the clip at least 10 times and predicted (laughably now) that no outlet other than KFI would disseminate what was clearly a disgraceful comment made by a man who two years ago was about 100,00 votes in Ohio from being the Commander in Chief.

But as played the clips I was struck by the enormous number of e-mails I received from listeners urging me to please post the audio on our website so that they could send it to other people and news outlets. It quickly became apparent to me that this statement had hit a nerve in a very big way.

After some initial frustration in our attempt to post the audio on the KFI website (thanks to the efforts of Lisa Goich, a liberal who needed to first learn the secret handshake to be part of this 'vast right-wing conspiracy,' and our promotions person Kristin Osborn, it finally got done), the audio soon began spreading like a wildfire across the internet. First, it was posted on and where it got national exposure. Then, through the efforts of us at KFI and many others who bombarded the Drudge Report with links to the audio on our website, within about four hours of being aired on our show the story went absolutely nuclear when around midnight Pacific Time when it was prominently placed on the preeminent news website in the world.

Getting on Drudge when it did was critical not just because of the massive media play that any link there automatically receives, but because it was vitally important that the story get legs before sunrise on the East coast. Since Kerry had made the statement on Monday evening, had it not made Drudge until after noon on Tuesday it very well may never have caught fire and would have been considered 'old' or at least inherently 'suspicious,' especially so close to an election. Instead, the entire national news cycle was dictated by John McCain's very early morning call for an apology from Kerry which NEVER would have happened without the Drudge link to the audio (as well as one of our listeners putting the video up on

After McCain's statement the story had turbo power (after all, if McCain says it the 'mainstream' media must take it seriously) and then Kerry sent it into orbit with his bizarre and nonsensical attempts to explain the comment away without an apology.

I am certainly not the only reason why this story became the monster it currently is. Heck, if Conan Nolan had not been the ONLY reporter at the actual event who didn't have his head in some liberalism-induced fog and therefore the only one who even bothered to allow his viewers to even be exposed to the statement, it never would have had any chance to even get off the launching pad. However, if I had changed the channel or gone to do any one of a hundred things that I normally do in the hour before a show, or if the KFI staff had not been able to get the audio clip on our website in time, I sincerely believe that, for better or worse, the chances of John Kerry's statement become major news would have been about as great as his current opportunity to be a significant Presidential candidate in 2008.